'Changes absolutely have to happen': Reaction to review of sexual assault cases
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Friday, August 4, 2017 5:18PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 4, 2017 6:32PM EDT
Victims of domestic abuse are of two minds about the Stratford police review of sexual assault complaints deemed unfounded, an advocate for women experiencing abuse says.
“I think there’s that sense of ‘OK, so something’s going to change’ … and then there’s that ‘Well, maybe they didn’t see what we were trying to tell them,’” Lisa Wilde, executive director of the Emily Murphy Centre, said Friday.
An investigation by The Globe and Mail found that between 2010 and 2014, Stratford police classified 48 per cent of sexual assault complaints as unfounded – a term used when investigators can’t find enough evidence to recommend prosecuting the case.
Police said Thursday that they had reviewed the cases in question, and found that the majority of them were misreported as unfounded.
Only 18 per cent of cases were actually unfounded, police said, putting Stratford slightly below the national average of 19 per cent.
The rest, Chief Mike Bellai said Friday in an interview, could better be termed “unsolved” – and should have been classified differently in police reports.
Police will now expand their review to encompass every sexual assault complaint between 2000 and 2017, to see if investigators’ findings were misreported over a longer period.
“I want to make sure that we do our due diligence,” Bellai said.
Additionally, police plan to provide training to ensure future complaints are coded correctly when they are entered in the database.
The Globe and Mail’s investigation led to a much wider conversation across Canada about how police handle sexual assault cases.
That conversation extended into the Stratford review, with police deciding to make some changes about how they approach their investigations.
“After our detectives finish their investigation, they’re going to be sitting down with the inspector in charge of investigations and they’re going to go through it – chapter and verse,” Bellai said.
Stratford police will also look to adopt what has been dubbed the Philadelphia model, where cases are also reviewed by outside organizations that work directly with victims.
The Emily Murphy Centre provides housing and other services for abused women and children.
Wilde says she has heard many stories of women who have put themselves through the process of reporting a sexual assault, only to find themselves unsatisfied with the outcome and questioning why they subjected themselves to the process.
“I think changes absolutely have to happen,” she said.
“Women who are being hurt in this community are not being served as well as they possible could.”
To that end, Wilde calls Thursday’s announcement “a good jumping-off point” for police. One thing she particularly likes is that police will try and push for sexual assault kits to be made available in Stratford. Currently, victims in need of the kits have to be taken to Kitchener or London.
“I think it’s kind of cruel or inhuman to send someone in a police car, or even a volunteer’s car, an hour away to a hospital full of strangers to get forensic evidence taken care of,” Wilde said.
Still, Wilde says she has heard concerns from some victims that police seem to be focusing on the misclassified incidents as their main finding – potentially to the detriment of other potential changes.
“I think that, to them, feels like ‘Oh, they didn’t really hear what our concerns were,’” she said.
With reporting by Abigail Bimman